A prominent Black artist who has shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of Art, and whose work is displayed in acclaimed private collections, has filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Division alleging he was racially profiled during a stay at The High Line Hotel in January.
Kahlil Robert Irving, 30, was asleep in his room at the boutique hotel on Manhattan’s 10th Avenue the morning of January 22nd when two hotel employees, both white men, used a key card to enter the hotel room, “screamed” that he needed to leave the hotel immediately, threatened police intervention, and accused Irving “of being a homeless person who had broken into the room,” according to Irving’s HRD complaint.
The staffers “ignored the hotel key card sitting in plain sight by the door,” according to the complaint, and they did not relent until Irving “was able to sit up in bed, retrieve my phone, retrieve the hotel reservation online, and convince the hotel manager of his error.” The complaint alleges the hotel workers offered no apology.
“Putting all of this together, it is impossible to imagine that this incident was not racially motivated,” the complaint alleges. “Can one seriously believe that this incident would have taken place and would have unfolded in such an aggressive and malicious manner, for any other reason, and absent hostile, racial stereotyping?”
It was the worst kind of racial stereotyping.
An employee of the hotel at 180 10th Ave. told Gothamist that the management would have no comment. An email to MCR Hotels, which describes itself online as the nation’s fourth-largest hotel owner-operator, of which The Hotel High Line is a part, was not returned.
A ‘peaceful sanctuary’
Irving, who lives in St. Louis, is a mixed-media artist who “mines the Internet as a living archive of Black life, death, remembrance, celebration, and survival,” as the MoMA describes his technique on its website.
His work has also shown at the Whitney, New York’s New Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Danish Culture Center in Hungary, along with a long list of museums, galleries and exhibitions around the world. Irving has also served as a guest lecturer, assistant professor and fellow at numerous colleges and universities.
His work, titled “Projects: Kahlil Robert Irving,” was on exhibit at the MoMA in January – among the reasons why he was in the city, and staying at The High Line Hotel, according to his attorney, Laurence J. Eisenstein, of the law firm Eisenstein Malanchuk LLP.
“It was the worst kind of racial stereotyping,” Eisenstein called the treatment of his client at the “peaceful sanctuary,” which is how the MCR website describes The High Line Hotel, originally conceived, in 1895, as a “red brick Collegiate Gothic jewel originally built as student housing for the General Theological Seminary.”
According to the HRD complaint, Irving checked into the hotel on January 20th. On the second evening of his stay, Irving returned to the hotel around 11 p.m. or midnight, and promptly went to bed.
Around 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. the following morning, a white male entered the room briefly, asked if everything was OK, “as the door seemed to have not closed completely,” and retreated after Irving gave an “affirmative response.”
It was 30 to 40 minutes later that the two hotel workers entered the room without knocking and ordered Irving to leave, during a harangue that lasted 15 to 20 minutes – until Irving provided proof from his phone that he was a guest. “They admitted he was a hotel guest,” Eisenstein told Gothamist. “They never admitted they were wrong.”
The complaint alleges violations of New York’s Human Rights Law, which among other things prohibits discrimination, based on specific protected classes, in employment, housing, credit, places of public accommodations, and non-sectarian educational institutions.
‘Except for racial animus’
Eisenstein said his client filed the complaint after the hotel failed to properly explain the treatment or offer an apology. He added, “Our patience just ran out,” Eisenstein said.
He said Irving seeks an acknowledgment of the wrongful conduct, for the hotel employees to be disciplined, better training of hotel workers, and monetary compensation.
“It is impossible, except for racial animus, to imagine why the hotel manager would not have first called my room if there were questions or knocked politely to make a friendly inquiry,” Irving said in the complaint, “instead of immediately taking a highly confrontational approach, choosing accusations over inquiry and immediately making aggressive threats without any provocations.”
His MoMA exhibit closed in May.